Sun, Feb 21, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Australia in talks with six countries on asylum seekers

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australia is in talks with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, among six nations, to resettle asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island nation of Nauru, the Sydney Morning Herald said yesterday.

The number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is small compared with those arriving in Europe, but border security is a hot-button issue in Australia, which is scheduled to hold a national election later in the year.

Negotiations with the governments of the three Southeast Asian countries focus on potentially settling 1,459 detainees, many of whom arrived during previous administrations, the newspaper said.

Three other countries are also involved in preliminary stages of talks, it added, but did not identify them.

A spokeswoman for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to confirm or deny the report.

However, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop cautioned that it was “early days” for the talks, as pressing local issues would influence the discussions.

“Some of them have domestic issues, like elections,” Bishop said in a statement.

The Philippines goes to the polls on May 9 to choose a new president and vice president, among other officials.

Australia’s tough immigration policies provide that anyone intercepted while trying to reach the country by boat is sent for processing to camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia.

Past Australian efforts to resettle asylum seekers elsewhere ran into hurdles.

In October last year, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the country had “no capacity” to permanently relocate asylum seekers, adding that his government was “challenged to meet the needs of its own people right now.”

Australia had offered US$150 million spread over five years in exchange for permanent relocation of some refugees.

A deal struck with Cambodia was halted after only four asylum seekers were resettled.

In 2011, the Australian high court ruled invalid a deal with Malaysia, as it was not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees.

Australia has been criticized by the UN and rights groups.

Since 2012, people on boats trying to reach Australia have been turned back or taken to camps in Nauru, where there have been reports of assaults and systemic child abuse, or Papua New Guinea, where Canberra has set up processing centers.

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